Cross-Conference Games (AFC vs. NFC)
New Orleans Saints @ Denver Broncos (-6.5)
Denver has had a couple weeks to rest and study their opponent. The Broncos had a monster 2nd half on Monday Night Football a couple weeks ago and made history with that comeback victory in San Diego. Offensively, they have more balance and Willis McGahee appears to be the x-factor. New Orleans is coming off back-to-back wins, including last week’s thriller in Tampa Bay as time expired in their favor. I don’t expect the Saints to be marching into Mile High Stadium on Sunday Night Football. As great as Drew Brees has been, his offense is one dimensional and Jimmy Graham is still out. Denver’s pass rush compliments a secondary that challenges and applies pressure. The Saints lack of a defense should lead to a vintage Peyton Manning performance, while the Broncos defense holds their own to win by at least a touchdown.
Washington Redskins @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)
Washington has given themselves a fighting chance to compete for the division and a playoff spot, thanks to their rookie combination of RG3 and Alfred Morris. These two are leading the Redskins with fundamental and physical football. Unfortunately for the Steelers they’ve been suffering from the injury bug all season. Big Ben and his passing targets have made plays and are getting the job done. Things could get tougher for a Redskins defense that doesn’t apply much pressure, and it will be interesting to see if they can shut down Jonathan Dwyer and the ground game. Usually rookies hit some form of a wall because of the longer season, plus it’s easy to like a Dick Labeau defense against a rookie quarterback so take the Steelers and the points.
(-7) New England Patriots @ St. Louis Rams (London)
The Rams defense is certainly holding their end of the bargain. Whether it’s the play-calling, receivers, or Sam Bradford, St. Louis has to find a way to move the chains on 3rd down. They should make it challenging for the Patriots’ offensive line by penetrating the backfield. New England is short-handed with a few players sidelined, however the defense has figured out how stabilize an opponent’s rushing attack. Tom Brady is as great as advertised, but this could the breakout week Bradford needs and St. Louis has been clamoring for. In London, The Patriots may very well win this game, but I’d bet on the Rams to keep it close.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Green Bay Packers (-14.5)
Quietly, Green Bay continues to produce high-caliber defensive backs. According to Pro Football Focus, Casey Hayward is currently ranked the top cornerback in the NFL, and they need that trend to continue after losing Charles Woodson to injury. Aaron Rodgers and company have rekindled the fire, while the defense is hoping the return of B.J. Raji gives them that spark against a struggling offense. Jacksonville just lost their best player and leader in Maurice Jones-Drew, although Rashad Jennings played well in his absence last week. A banged up Blaine Gabbert will have to get the ball out of his hands quickly, but the Jaguars’ defense has fallen off last season’s radar and the Packers should cover a two touchdown spread on Lambeau Field.
NFC Matchups (All 3 Locks in NFC Matchups)
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles (-3)
Atlanta is coming off a bye with an undefeated record, however Andy Reid and the Eagles are 13-0 after a bye week in their own respect. Something has to give, which includes the enticing matchup in the passing game. Philadelphia’s cornerback tandem of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will line up across the duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones. The question is, will they finally get help from a defensive line that tied for the lead in sacks last season? Don’t let Tony Gonzalez slip through the cracks because he can beat you. In a game full of matchups, Philly should use LeSean McCoy to the fullest extent. Don’t be surprised if DeSean Jackson gives former teammate Asante Samuel some double-moves for a big play. You could go with the Eagles at home but give Atlanta the points.
(-7) San Francisco @ Arizona
This is a rival matchup between two physical teams and better defenses in the league. San Francisco just protected home field against another division rival, and boy that defense was strong as they come. Good thing Frank Gore is alright, because Alex Smith has his flaws and this game could expose some weaknesses. Arizona got a surprising spark form Laron Stephens-Howling and his triple-digit game against a stout Vikings defensive front. With John Skelton at the helm, they better figure out a way to get Larry Fitzgerald in the mix. The 49ers are coming off 10 days rest and should tally another victory, but the Cardinals will scrap and make it ugly.
(-2.5 Lock) NY Giants @ Dallas
Whenever trash talk is involved, that tells me the Giants are probably going to win that week. A problem that has been consistent for Dallas in recent memory, is that they have excellent coordinators but not head coaches. With Rob Ryan around, they have a coach that has more fire than his team, but the guys on the field have to back it up. New York has been flirting and striving for that offensive balance, and you know if the game is close they’re going to come through more times than not. The Cowboys just lost Sean Lee with DeMarco Murray still sidelined. Statistics can look better than a performance suggests, and although this is a rival game this is a lock in favor of the reigning Super Bowl champions.
(Lock) Seattle @ Detroit (-2.5)
Detroit believes they’re capable of replicating last season’s success. The Lions’ defensive line has to be anchor the D on a consistent basis. Matthew Stafford is still writing his story, we don’t know if he’s going to progress or even turn out to be a one-hit wonder. Either way, Mikel Leshoure has to do what they brought him into do, and Brandon Pettigrew definitely has to pick up some slack to help “Megetron.” Seattle has instilled a physical and college style environment, and you know Marshawn Lynch is salivating to turn “beast mode” on. That Seahawks defense is stingy and will look to teach Ndamukong Suh what nasty really is. Since Detroit is the favorite, I expect an upset on the road.
Carolina @ Chicago (-7.5 Lock)
When you’re a struggling offense and playing musical chairs with running backs, along with a quarterback in the midst of a sophomore slump, you don’t look forward to a matchup at soldier Field in Chicago. The Panthers are in disarray and it appears to start with the coaching staff and affecting the face of the franchise, not to mention a defensive head coach and his unit playing below average. The Bears are simply on a roll and the offense doesn’t need to do much to seal a victory these days. Factor in the field position game with arguably the best defense in football and a strong ground game, all that before worrying about the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection. Bear down, Panthers flee to hibernation.
Miami @ NY Jets (-2)
Dolphins coming off bye, Bush doesn’t look healthy, can Tannehill learn from Luck vs NYJ? free up Hartline, challenging defense
Jets edged out by NE, not much offense but finding a way thanks to Kerley, Cromartie playing well, Scott out
Miami is hoping Reggie Bush is feeling fresh off the bye. Also, I hope they showed Ryan Tannehill the film from when the Jets defense squared off against fellow rookie QB Andrew Luck. They’re also trying to keep Brian Hartline involved. Flip the script and the Jets are a team finding ways to win. One week Shonn Greene had his way and the next, Jeremy Kerley is making a name for himself. A rival matchup with some proud defenses. New York is great at stopping the pass, but I like the Dolphins’ ability to eliminate the ground game. I’ll take them by a field goal if you’re looking for an underdog.
Oakland @ Kansas City (-1)
Oakland suffered a plethora of injuries in the secondary, and the blessing in disguise has come to fruition. Michael Huff has played outstanding at cornerback, even better than he’s been at safety. They win a lot of battles at the line of scrimmage with an up and coming linebacking corps backing them up. Offensively, the line has to adjust to the zone blocking scheme to give Darren McFadden some daylight. Kansas City is pounding the rock with Jamaal Charles who’s having a great season, and they expect Peyton Hillis back in uniform. The defense has shown glimpses of shutting an offense down, but there’s too many negative moments. Brady Quinn has to excel rapidly or they won’t turn the season around. Take the Chiefs returning from their bye.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee (-3.5)
Tennessee got Chris Johnson back on track, and Matt Hasselbeck is spreading the ball around. The defense just hopes to improve on a weekly basis. Without their offensive tackle, Michael Roos, you can say it’s wise to keep Jake Locker out with a bye next week. The Colts live and die by Andrew Luck. Reggie Wayne has excelled in the slot this season, hopefully Donald Brown can return with some punch. Indy’s defense is getting healthier slowly but surely, we’re finally going to see both Pat Angerer and Dwight Freeney on the field. That’s enough for me to pick Indianapolis in another upset, considering the Titans are the favorite.
(-3) San Diego @ Cleveland
You would think playing Cleveland off a bye week is a give me, I would say think again. Not to get carried away, but the Chargers have played themselves from contenders to pretenders over the years. Perhaps the bye week bought Jared Gaither and Antonio Gates some extra time to heal, but you can’t worry about the spokes if the wheel is flat. Philip Rivers has to shake the rough mental state and perform like he’s capable of. The Browns don’t have the best record in the world, but you saw how they played the Eagles and Ravens. They don’t blow you away with stats, they just hope Trent Richardson moves the chains and that Brandon Weedon can hit a receiver on a bomb here and there. With that said this should be a lock for San Diego, but they’ll just be happy with a win on the road.
Houston (Next game vs. Buffalo Bills)
They had their hiccup on a grand stage, that was against a former champion that’s been there before. They play everyone else and flex their dominance. If the D can keep up the level of intensity without Cushing, they’ll be playing an NFC representative.
Baltimore (Next game @ Cleveland Browns)
The bye week came at the right time. Baltimore needs that defense to heal and find some answers. Offensively, they shouldn’t forget the type of team they are, and the talent they have in Ray Rice. It has always been his offense.
Cincinnati (Next game vs. Denver Broncos)
How good would the Bengals be if they ranked 7th in defense like last year? They get time to figure that out, along with the running game and how Green-Ellis is only notching 3.4 yards per carry.
Buffalo (Next game @ Houston Texans)
Using both of their versatile running backs is smart, and they’re using Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler like they should. Last year the defense forced turnovers. Since then they got healthier and added Mario Williams, they’re the 2nd worst defense.